2.1. Women’s Experience in Stigmatized Serious Leisure
Serious leisure is a concept which Robert Stebbins
) has developed through ethnographic researches of people from diverse leisure activities from music, arts, and sports. It is described as a counterpart of casual leisure—a leisure activity considered to be pleasurable, enjoyable without extended special training, and rather passive (Stebbins 1997
). Six components define the theory of serious leisure activity including conquering a goal through adversity, progressive achievement, special training, belongingness as well as benefits, unique ethos, and identification. These features separate serious leisure from casual which is defined as, “immediately, intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-lived pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training” (Stebbins 1997
). These attributes distinguish serious participants from casual and non-serious participants. Furthermore, the concept of serious leisure includes those who are suggested as hobbyists, volunteers, and amateurs. Hobbyists and volunteers tend to gain compensation from their involvement such as costs for selling their services; however as amateurs, they seek to be differentiated from beginners. Amateurism is well linked with professionalism in which both characteristics show strong commitment and deep involvement, however, amateurs are most likely to be viewed as “near professional”, due to the fact that the commitment of the amateur does not necessarily point to a professional career (Stebbins 1982
There has been an on-going relay of studies applying serious leisure as a key concept, although insufficiently focusing on female participation in leisure activity, of which a few take on gendered approaches. Bartram
) highlights a feminist approach toward extreme sport activity and emphasizes the diversity of identity—according to age, gender, and social class—is crucial to understand power relations in serious leisure kayaking. Raisborough
) suggests the negotiation of gender-specific demands and time to access leisure as well as the power dynamics within the social world of the leisure activity of women as sea cadets. Furthermore, studies of activities which are traditionally male dominated interpret female participation as a means of resistance from traditional norms such as climbing (Dilley and Scraton 2010
) and rugby (Murray and Howat 2009
However, resistance through female-oriented activities remarked as serious leisure among participants is mentioned in the study of female roller derby participants (Breeze 2013
; Liu et al. 2016
). Similarly, female dominated, non-traditional, and “not taken serious” activities such as belly dance (Moe 2012
), pole dance (Donaghue et al. 2011
), and lingerie football (Knapp 2015
) are often marginalized despite studies having presented women experiencing empowerment and sisterhood as well as increase in popularity. Interestingly enough, notwithstanding social cultural stereotypes, stigmatization, and reputation, there is a persistent increase of the accumulation of its participation rates (Dale 2012
). It is pointed out by Nicholas et al.
) that the stigmatized notion and the non-mainstream characteristics of the activity motivate and encourage women to begin or continue their involvement. This affiliation is motivated, according to Brewer
), by a favorable balance between one’s necessity of similarity with a group and of distinctiveness from others.
Generally, stigma occurs when an individual is participating in or possesses something that is found to be different, socially unacceptable, and is given a negative reputation, whilst we categorize people according to their attributes that are socially believed to be “normal” (Goffman 1963
). Stigmatized activity categorizes people in such unorthodox situations as “abnormal”, and in the long run they lose social acceptance and are discredited. Furthermore, stigmatization happens wholly over three different ways: Physical deformities; individual character; and race, nationality and/or religion (Goffman 1963
). However, “softer” forms of stigma can be recalled to understand its associations with voluntary serious leisure activities, in this case pole dance, similar to that of belly dancers (Kraus 2010
; Ferree 2005
) highlights a lighter arrangement of rejection which leads to lesser experiences of embarrassments and name-calling which is coined as “soft stigma”. It was found that “soft stigma” threatens people who have a positive understanding of belonging to a specific group. Moreover, belly dancers go through resistance, secrecy, personal management, and educating others in contradicting views of themselves as erotic dancers (Kraus 2010
). Like belly dancers, pole dancers have relatable attributes; both are regarded as sexual and erotic to the public as well as being unacceptable in most societies.
For decades, pole dance has been known as a form of erotic dance in which women dance using a pole as a prop. It is used as a practice of entertainment for the gaze of an audience mostly in gentlemen’s clubs. There are many theories of its origin—from it being a male-based acrobatic physical fitness activity to a performance by Egyptian female dancers touring North America. During the 1980s, pole dance was introduced in America where it morphed into a form of erotic dance to lure customers into bars. From the 1980s, pole dance incorporated athletic moves and tricks performed on a pole in Western societies. Later in the 1990s, pole gradually became a popular method of physical exercise which was practiced and taught in a variety of non-sexual athletic settings in pole studios that have connected its characteristics to fitness, transitioning its name from pole dance to pole fitness. The transformation of pole has created a discourse on the female and feminine body; trends of the fitness culture; controversies over regulation of the cultural and social understandings of the activity; its categorization as a sport; and in a microperspective, what and how women experience through their participation (Griffiths 2016
It has been noted that pole has transformed from a provocative activity performed in night clubs to an activity which has been marketed as a form of exercise activity (Whitehead and Kurz 2009
). Moreover, studies have revealed how women have tried to lessen the connection to adult entertainment as well as expressed how they are empowered through pole fitness (Fennell 2018
; Griffiths 2016
; Whitehead and Kurz 2009
). From Western literature, Whitehead and Kurz
) mention how women have gained empowerment through pole dance classes and how women construct a space for themselves to actively resist dominant patriarchal ideas of feminine sexuality. Moreover et al. (2011) analyze how pole dancing studios are seen as a space for self-expression and self-display among women to gain personal confidence and means of power. In further studies, Holland
) suggests that pole dance is more than a form of art and dance but one that emphasizes athleticism and skill, simultaneously advocating female liberation and respect for the individual’s body image, age, and gender. It explains that the enjoyment of sexualization was related to positive body image through pole fitness participation (Dimler et al. 2017
; Pellizzer et al. 2016
). However, due to the stigmatization of stripping, there have been negativity and judgmental remarks about participation (Griffiths 2016
; Holland 2010
). In addition, experiences of resistance and oppression have been mentioned during women’s involvement in pole, while the recognition of pole is claimed to have been altered by taking it as an athletic activity rather than striptease (Dale 2012
; Holland 2010
The association between stripping and pole dancing originated in Canada during the 1990s as a form of sexual employment (Allen 2011
). Professional dancers working in the sex industry are stigmatized due to the characteristics of their occupation being deviant (Thompson and Harred 1992
; Thompson et al. 2003
; Bradley 2007
). Though it has been pointed out by McNair
) that strip culture is a form of liberation for female sexuality and confronts patriarchal structure. It is stated that striptease rather embodies and constructs the desire for female demonstration of sexuality and subordinates women within the structure of male dominance (Levy 2005
). With this understanding of strip culture, “stripper stigma” is shaped around the atmosphere of media representation of strippers being portrayed to be “immoral” and “dirty” (Hallgrímsdóttir et al. 2008
). The preoccupying notions regarding a stripper occupational characteristics determine the social perception of workers as sexual and promiscuous.
Due to pole’s original connections to sex work, recreational pole participants cope with the stereotypes of stripper stigma (Gómez-Ramírez 2007
). Instructors separate pole and stripping by encouraging women to understand pole as a form of exercise and sport, while participants challenge stereotypes by “distinguishing themselves between being sexy and slutty” (Gómez-Ramírez 2007
). Some practitioners of recreational pole dance have made efforts to separate stripping and exercise by enforcing athletic elements and transformed terms by adding suffixes such as exercise, fitness, and sports. However, there seems to be a vague line between recreational pole and pole dance in strip clubs, mostly because of the origin of the activity which leads to stereotypes and stigmatization of pole participants.
2.2. The Ambivalent Translation of Pole Dance in Korea
There has not been any academic material reviewing the involvement of pole dance in Korea. In the Korean language, pole dance is translated as “bongchom”. The meaning in Korean gives an indication of decadence and vulgarity which is an area that has not been much studied within Korean academia. Interestingly, the image that pole dance portrays is mostly through media and strip culture from Western sources. This is due to the fact that gentlemen’s clubs and strip culture are non-existent in Korea. There are no clubs or entertainment venues that have pole dancers who strip in front of an audience. Therefore, the perspective on pole dance in Korea and in connection with its origin from strip clubs can be perceived differently from that of Western literature.
In the last two decades there has been a continuous increase of media coverage from early 2000’s to present day of Korean women performing and practicing pole dance as a form of fitness. In 2006, a Korean online news article mentioned how pole dancing had become a type of popular fitness in Australia and its physical fitness benefits alongside participation among both men and women (Bae 2006
). One of the top major broadcasting companies in Korea, MBC (footnote 1), shortly introduced pole dancing as a fitness activity which many Hollywood stars are joining as a method of exercise (MBC 2007
Though they briefly mention how pole is rather a form of fitness than a dance, both media reports do not comment on whether Korean women participate or if there are any pole studios in Korea. Relatively, the news depicts pole dance as a “foreign way” of exercise. In 2009, a news article shared an interview with the owner of Pole Dance Korea where she stated the benefits that were gained through the exercise (Shin 2009
Most recent, Korean pop-stars’ dance routines have included basic pole dance moves and tricks in music videos and concerts. For example, female recording artists Gain in 2012, K-Pop girl group After School in 2013, and Mamamo in 2018 have performed pole dance in media contents.
In a three-chapter series of exclusive interviews from Sports Seoul in 2017, one of Korea’s popular pole studio owners and instructors, ‘Poling Mia’, explains how pole is a sport in which anyone can be involved as well as a means to gain physical and mental benefits, based on her personal experiences (Sports_Seoul 2017a
In the Asia Business Daily
, another domestic pole instructor’s experiences were published which were similar to those of ‘Poling Mia’. In this series, Youngji Kim emphasized how pole fitness helps get rid of cellulite and creates a toned body figure (Moon 2018a
). Both interviews highly emphasize the athleticism of pole and indicate how pole is misunderstood in Korea due to less clothing being worn during the practice of the activity and its origin SBS.4
News featured Eunji Jung who has been representing Korea as a pole athlete and became the first Korean to enter the Pole Championship Series—a professional pole fitness league for elite professional pole athletes. Throughout the article she mentions her struggles as a pole athlete on a personal level as a mother and as a Korean female and on a societal level in which she hopes to overcome stereotypes of pole all over the world (Chae 2018
Despite social stereotypes of pole, the community of pole participants in the Korean scene puts in efforts to change misleading and negative misperceptions of pole dance by introducing physical benefits and exercise experiences. However, the community’s idea of pole is rather frowned upon despite the growing number of pole participants as well as pole dance studios in Korea. International and national pole dance championships are held yearly and the number of women participating at amateur and professional levels is rapidly increasing. There are two major competitions which are held annually—Angels Cup (since 2014) and Seoul International Pole Dance Competition (since 2016)—in which the increase of competitors maintain the opening of new competitions. Furthermore, the main source employed by the pole community to communicate and share pole tricks and videos worldwide is steered through constant updates of pole routines, which are uploaded generally via Instagram—social networking system (SNS).
It is evident that pole dancing has been and is relatively perceived as a form of erotic dance that is highly associated with the female body, leading to sexual objectification; nevertheless, many Korean women are participating and view it as a combination of physical fitness and art. Seemingly, there are no gentlemen’s clubs and strip culture in Korea. Therefore, it is not exaggerated to state that pole in Korea has settled as a fitness activity in spite of the societal image of pole dance which is created around the characteristics set by Western media sources that portray the culture of striptease. It is interesting to note that there coexist both conceptions of pole dance set by Western media, vulgar and ostentatious, simultaneously, easily absorbing pole dance as a physical exercise because strip culture is not directly experienced inside Korea.